OVERSEAS RESCUE - PEANUT'S PAWSTEPS OF PROGRESS
This is Peanut, who is a sweet Romanian rescue. He's been in the UK for a few months and we've been working online with his family.
Like many overseas rescues, he has changed significantly since he first arrived. His mum and dad have seen pawsteps forward, often followed by pawsteps back, because living with an overseas dog rarely goes in a straight line. It's more like navigating a river, the flow can meander and loop and sometimes there are rapids and whirpools!
Peanut was very fearful when he first arrived in his new home and couldn't eat in front of people. Working with a dog who is anxious around the presence of people with food can make training a challenge but his family have been adaptable and found ways to build his trust. Early walks were full of anxiety and he was very wary of his dad, as you can see in this video.
The first time we met online, I suspected that we wouldn't be able to play any of our training games because he was so uneasy with food. But his mum had started using some of the ideas in our pdf booklets and was starting to gain his trust. To my surprise, she was able to play the Countdown To Calm Game, and over following days she started playing the Connection Game with him. So far so good, in terms of his relationship with his mum.
Like many Romanian rescues, he was very fearful of men and, although he had seemed OK with his new dad at first, things started to deteriorate. He mostly tried to avoid his dad and started spending much of his time with his mum upstairs in her work office.
This was good: he had a safe place where he could settle and relax. He was able to do daily Sniff Trails, eventually with his mum in the room, and was starting to venture out into the garden more often.
He bonded with his mum very quickly. We were pleased that he felt safe with her, but unfortunately, this closeness to his mum led to his behaviour with his dad changing. He was still very scared of him and, as his confidence grew, he became more proactive about being clear that he couldn't tolerate being too close to him. He would seek safety in small spaces and then feel trapped if his dad went into the room where he'd wedged himself in.
He started growling to keep his dad out of his safe room and would also growl and lunge if he found himself in the kitchen with him. He was using the only way he knew to keep threats at a distance, which was understandably daunting for his dad and worrying for his mum.
His dad felt like he was treading on egg-shells with Peanut. He's a kind, gentle man who wanted the best for Peanut, but it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to move around his home without worrying that Peanut was going to launch a defensive strike at him.
So we had to go back to the drawing board and teach Peanut to be a bit more independent from his mum. We carried on with all the trust games they had done originally, but instead of doing them with his mum while his dad was being quietly supportive in the same room, we needed to find ways that he could do them and feel safe with his dad.
His family have been amazing. They've had endless patience with him and have gone through a huge range of emotions - from elation to acute worry. Living with an overseas rescue dog can be a challenge and can cause a lot of upheaval in the family home. Safe spaces often need to be created. People often need to change how they move around those spaces and how they talk, laugh and communicate because anything done quickly or loudly can scare a traumatised dog.
It can be really hard to have to be aware - 24 hours a day - of how you're moving, talking, or even laughing!
As a woman with a loud laugh (I cackle like a witch - its not subtle!), I know how much I have to tone things down when I'm working with very damaged dogs. I'm also a hand-waver when I talk, and dialling both of those things down takes a fair old bit of concentration. I can manage it for a couple of hours in a consultation, but you can imagine how hard it is to do that 24/7 when living with a dog as traumatised as Peanut.
I haven't met him yet. He's getting used to my voice via Zoom and WhatsApp consultations. He's been able to settle in the same room as an unfamiliar family member, and is more confident on walks.
His biggest sign of progress, though, is that he now chooses to lie on the same sofa as his dad. That may not seem like a big deal to some people, but if you've lived with a shut-down overseas rescue, you'll know what a huge pawstep that is.
We have regular progress chats and his dad is starting to feel he can be a little more relaxed when he moves around at home. As you can see from the video above, Peanut now feels more comfortable on his walks and can even walk close to his dad without worrying.
These three are a bit of an inspiration. We work with many, many overseas rescues and it's not often that we come across someone as patient and determined to adapt as Peanut's new dad is being.
Peanut has well and truly landed on his paws and I'm looking forward to the day when I will eventually meet him and be able to work with him face-to-face. All in good time, though. Because you can't push a river, and this river is slow flowing and meandering, with some very special moments along its route.